Thomas Jefferson Takes Up George Washington’s Urgent Call to Protect the South and With It the American Revolution

He acts immediately, at Washington’s newly arrived request, to provide supplies to the Southern Continental Army then organizing under Nathanael Greene’s leadership.

A rare letter connecting Governor Thomas Jefferson and Commander in Chief George Washington, working together to throw back the British advance

The war in the South had gone very poorly for the Americans, and after the defeat at Camden in August 1780 the Southern army was finished as a cohesive fighting force....

Read More

Thomas Jefferson Takes Up George Washington’s Urgent Call to Protect the South and With It the American Revolution

He acts immediately, at Washington’s newly arrived request, to provide supplies to the Southern Continental Army then organizing under Nathanael Greene’s leadership.

A rare letter connecting Governor Thomas Jefferson and Commander in Chief George Washington, working together to throw back the British advance

The war in the South had gone very poorly for the Americans, and after the defeat at Camden in August 1780 the Southern army was finished as a cohesive fighting force. This was more than a setback, it was a positive danger to the entire American Revolution, as if unopposed in the South the British would be free to throw their forces into an attack on Virginia, and from there sweep north and put an end to the Revolution. On October 5, 1780, the Continental Congress sought to reverse American fortunes by providing new leadership, resolving “that the Commander-in-Chief [Washington] be and is hereby directed to appoint an officer to command the southern army…” Washington quickly wrote to Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster of the Continental Army, saying “It is my wish to appoint you.” Greene accepted, and Congress approved the appointment, giving Greene command over all troops from Delaware to Georgia, “subject to the control of the Commander-in-Chief”; effectively making him the second-in-command of the entire Continental Army, reporting only to Washington himself.

 

 

On October 22, 1780, Washington wrote to his home Governor, Thomas Jefferson, to inform him of Greene’s appointment.  “Major General Greene, who goes to take command of the southern Army, will have the honor of presenting this to your Excellency. I have advised him to take the several States in his way which are immediately concerned in furnishing Men and supplies for the department committed to his direction, that he may gain a more accurate knowledge of the forwardness they are in, a tolerable Idea of what may be his future expectations, and endeavour to settle some plans for the regular support and subsistence of the Army in provisions, Forage and transportation.”

Greene left Philadelphia on November 3, 1780, to take his position as Commander of the South, and by the 19th had arrived in Richmond. There, on the 20th, he wrote Governor Thomas Jefferson confirming to him “My Appointment to the Command of the Southern Army, with Powers to call upon the southern States for Supplies and Support”. Maintaining that he intended to defend the South by a campaign in the Carolinas, he made it clear that unless he would be successful in that, Jefferson’s beloved Virginia would become the theater of war and might be lost: “…it is much easier to oppose the Enemy in those States…than it will be to secure Virginia after they are overrun: a misfortune which may prove fatal to the Happiness and Independence of America.”

He had a specific set of requests of Jefferson, most particularly for supplies and militia. His letter continued, “The Present state of the southern department and the future Operations that must Necessarily be carried on in that Quarter induces me to lay before You the Inclosed Requisitions for men and Supplies of different kinds…As the Scene of Operations may change and as the Emergencies of War are Numerous and Various from which New and Pressing demands may arise, I hope the Legislature will vest You with full and Ample power to Comply with such as they happen. Without this I foresee the Most fatal consequence may attend the Army for want of timely support. It will be my province to Inform You from time to time of the Men and Supplies Necessary to the Operations, and to Conduct the force and direct the men when they are sent to the field. But the Levying of One and Collecting the Other must depend upon Yourselves”. He momentously added, “On your exertions hang the Independence of the Southern States…”

Greene also presented Governor Jefferson with the letter from Washington, requesting Virginia’s aid in the supply of Greene’s fighting force.

Timothy Pickering replaced Greene as Quartermaster of the Continental Army, and was now responsible for procuring provisions and transportation for American forces. Jefferson wrote him asking that Pickering name a deputy quarter master for the State of Virginia to assist in the state’s requisition efforts. Pickering replied in October expressing his willingness to comply, and discussing some prospective men for the job, but saying he did not want to be the one who decided on the appointee. He passed the buck back to Jefferson, writing “At all events I should be happy to have some one appointed without further loss of time that the business of the department may no longer be in suspense; and with your Excellency’s choice shall be well pleased.”

With Washington’s and Greene’s newly arrived letters in hand, urgently insisting on assistance, Jefferson wrote again to Pickering. Letter signed, In Council, Richmond, November 21, 1780, to Pickering, stating that Washington’s and Greene’s army needs the supplies that Virginia can provide, but the state cannot deliver them as things stand, and specifically requesting help in finding a deputy quarter master for Virginia that would have the requisite experience for the great job at hand. “On receipt of your favour by Colo. Mead we offered the office of Deputy quarter master General for the Continent in this state to a Mr. George Divers, a person qualified in every point for exercising it as we would wish it to be. A peculiarity in the present situation of his private affairs has however prevented his acceptance of it. I have this day written to major Foresythe to know if he will accept it, as I believe he will discharge its duties with great cleverness and activity. Should he decline I shall really be at a loss to find one possessing in tolerable degree the several qualities necessary in that office. As soon as we can get the appointment made and accepted I will do myself the pleasure of informing you of it. That it be filled properly is becoming of daily greater consequence as the exhausture of the two Carolinas renders the southern army daily more dependent on us for subsistance, and we can subsist them plentifully if the transportation can be affected. I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect sir, Your most obedient & mo humble servant, Th: Jefferson.”

 

Virginia’s acting as the supplier of the army is of “greater consequence as the exhausture of the two Carolinas renders the southern army daily more dependent on us…”

Greene took command of the Southern army in North Carolina on December 3, 1780. Over the next ten months he engineered a series of victories over the British in the Carolinas at Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk’s Hill and Eutaw Springs, turning the tide of the war and setting the stage for Washington’s crowning victory at Yorktown.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services